What to look for in good web hosting

General Development Concepts

What to look for to determine if a web hosting provider is worth using. This series also describes how to setup ultra reliable web hosting without breaking the bank on dedicated hosting.

Date : 2009-06-09
What to look for in good web hosting and how to setup ultra reliable web sites without spending a fortune.

There are several key components of good web hosting. Partially it depends on what you're using it for. There are easily thousands of good web hosting companies out there that are trying very hard to provide fast dependable web hosting. How, then, could anyone decide which one to go with?

Here are a few factors you can look for:

#1 – Reliability Percentage.
These usually range from 99% to 100%. The first thing I questioned when finding a host that claimed to have 100% uptime is how long are they measuring that for. Obviously at some point during a day any web hosting provider could say that they had no downtime in the last 8 hours. I have found a couple of hosting providers who have claimed 100% uptime for at least a year. That's pretty solid hosting in my book. What about 99% uptime though? That might sound fairly good but really that allows for nearly 15 minutes of downtime per day. Unless it happened to be in the middle of the night every time that could be a major inconvenience to your customers and with the global nature of the internet your site is going to be down for 15 minutes right in the middle of somebody's day.
Look for the highest percentage you can find. 99.9% is under 1.5 minutes of downtime per day, which is not ideal, but still better than 15 minutes per day. It's also unlikely that your site will actually go down every day. Much more likely that you'll have an extended period of down time once time per month. At 99.9% that would be nearly an hour, but at 99% that could be almost 8 hours of downtime in a month.
Finding the best host you can is, therefore, very important. That does not mean, though, that you need to spend a fortune on web hosting. I'll discuss a way around this later.

#2 – Features
You want to make sure that your web hosting provider gives you all the features you will need. It's not uncommon for many hosting providers to offer all or at least most of these features: Multiple hosted domains, multiple sub domains, multiple email addresses, FTP accounts, Cron jobs, static IP addresses, SSH, preinstalled or easily installed scripts, and various databases. Add to that any amount of storage and traffic that you can imagine.
Those are the features that you will want to compare between web hosting companies. Always get a little more than you think you need as you rarely have changes require less resources.
There are a couple more features that you want to look for. Any hosting company that is not offering you dedicated hosting is sharing all the resources of the server between your site and various other sites. Some of those sites might be what I call “business card” sites, they receive about 20 hits per month so they aren't slowing your site down at all. Other ones might be just as busy if not more so than your site. Because of this it's important to know what CPU limits they have set on your site. If they haven't set CPU limiting per site you might think htat's a good thing, until you think of all the other sites that could have bad code on them that takes up the whole CPU at times causing your site to either completely fail or at least be slow to respond. These timeout failures are not figured into the reliability percentage as there is no way for the host to know when one or more sites are experiencing slowness or user timeouts. All they can measure is when their network is completely down.
The other detail you want to know is what hardware they are using to host your site. Some hosting companies haven't upgraded their equipment in many years, your site could be running on an old Pentium box with 512mb of ram for all you know. Look for a server that you would be proud to have. At least 2GB of ram, multi-core processors, and a newer version of the OS.

These are not details that will usually be advertised by web hosting companies especially not the lower priced ones. If you can find a contact form on the site send them a message asking for that information. If they don't respond quickly, or if you can't find a contact form then you don't want to use them anyway.

Next we'll talk about When to use dedicated hosting instead of shared hosting

Or skip straight to how to set up ultra reliable web hosting

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